Is IP TV really a step forward?

Let me say that I've been an IP TV fan since its introduction a couple of years ago in my town. But now I have to say that I am really concerned with this stuff in general. Here is my negative side of experience:

  1. Problem with modem. When I got it the service was simple - more than hundred of channels and news from provider's web site. Yet the modem provider sold me had so huge problems - at the start it was freezing once per day. After hundred upgrades from provider (they can tamper with my modem/router and they do it even without telling the customers - one day you don't have a problem the next day you have a problem due to upgrade which you don't know it happen) it finally reached a state that one could call fairly stable. The modem in question is Sagem Fast 3344. My recommendation: stay away from this modem. Furthermore the rumor is that the modem we got was a part of shipment for Deutsche Telecom which rejected them as unusable and so they somehow got to my provider probably for free.
  2. You have to buy set top box (STB) and those aren't exactly cheap. My provider was giving (both modem and Amino 103 STB) for free if you sign a two year contract. This is worse that having them rented because you are on your own if it fails some day and you won't get it replaced with newer model.
  3. Amino 103 STB is the very low of the Amino offering - having only video output and stereo sound output. Since it is receiving a digital signal one would expect Dolby Digital 5.1 or something but, no. The device itself has one (1) red light which tells you whether it is connected to currency + it flashes when it is receiving remote control signals. That's it. No buttons. If your remote fails for some reason you can't turn it on, you can't change channels and you don't have a clue which channel it is streaming unless your TV is on. Why would you need to see the channel? Because there are radio stations on the list. And to listen (to switch) to the radio station you have to turn on the TV. Besides that Amino sometimes freezes or shows other weird behavior.
  4. MPEG Artifacts on the picture are often visible specially in fast moving scenes. And nobody know who the culprit is, well, nobody even cares that much besides the customer. I mean it could be a satellite receiving problem on the provider side, communication between provider and modem, modem problem, communication between modem and STB, STB problem. As one would expect there is no diagnostics whatsoever (exception is the modem which can tell you the line quality and the amount of packets dropped, etc.)
  5. Some channels work, some don't and some work sometimes. Do you get an explanation? No.
  6. Provider dependency - if your provider has problems or it decides to cut you out your are without TV for at least some time. If you have a problem you can call toll free support line, wait for 20 minutes to get a student that can't help you much anyway.
  7. A STB per TV you have to have a STB per television if you want to watch on more than one television set.
  8. No support for watching TV on computer. Currently you can watch using VLC application, yet it already happened that it stopped working for a day or two. So there is no guarantee that tomorrow you'll be able to see the picture on computer. Ah, and you need a second network card on the computer. The other option is to use a video input on your graphic card(wonderful one - convert from digital to analog to show on digital LCD) and of course, another STB to get the signal from.
  9. Recording. Oh, this is a big issue. Forget about recording your shows. So far there are two options. Either use your computer (see above) (you really want to leave your computer on and go through myriad of clicking and computer stuff just to record a show) or use set your STB to proper channel and use your classic VCR. The later is better but, but, you are running into problems if you want to record from more than one channel. Remember, lousy Amino can change channels only through remote control.
    My provider is preparing new service called personal recorder to record the shows. Sounds great, but: limits are 6 hours and each recording disappears into the void after 2 days. Great, if you are gone for more than two days forget it. Furthermore you have to set the recorder at least 15mins before the show. If you are watching a show and you want to record it to the end - forget it. Did I mention that service is not free? All in all the personal recorder is very much useless.
  10. Video on demand. This is another service that is being launched soon. Sounds great, but: you pay for movie and have 24hrs of time to watch it. Enough? Not for me. Imagine you start watching in the evening and suddenly you have to stop for whatever reason (kids, natural disaster, something else).  You can't watch it next day unless you get a day free and watch it in the morning. The picuture and sound quality is still a mystery. Furthermore movies aren't exactly cheap charged 2€ and the movie catalog is very thin full of all movies. I guess the quantity will improve slowly. Will I use VOD? Unless it changes - no, thanks.
  11. Games there are few games you can play. Simple classic games and the TV doesn't play when you are playing games. Who really needs these low level games in the era of hitech consoles is besides me.
  12. Picture in picture. Simply forget it.
  13. I certainly forgot some problems - I'll add it when they comes back to my memory...

I have started to think if IP TV is really an improvement over my old cable TV when you didn't need a STB - each TV has a tuner included and you can watch as many TVs your want each showing different channel for free. And you need to use a single remote control. And recording shows is so simple one could cry - fire up your VCR, make few clicks on remote and voila - any channel any time for as much time one wants. OK, you can't watch TV on your computer unless you use video/audio input on your graphic card but who watches TV on computer anyway? Since recording options on IP TV are none I would use computer as a (last resort) recorder, that's why I am concerned with watching IP TV on computer. Then cable TV service is much more reliable and picture has better quality (go figure). Perhaps the drawbacks are limit of the number of channels (around 40 vs unlimited on IP TV) and absence of electronic programming guide (EPG - at least I think there is still none on my cable TV - it is technically feasible though) but hey, I watch only max. 10 channels - others are junk.

Was I a naive when I switched to IP TV? Probably. I am aware of the potential of IP TV and was really hopping to see it in full glory. But it turned out that IP TV is two steps back in quality, ease of use, and much more expensive compared to cable TV. OK, there are some bright points (EPG, news) but then its other services are crap. Seems like IP TV is squeezed between a bad provider(s) and digital rights (who knows what's behind all of these problems) The near future is uncertain and doesn't look bright to me - even now, if you want VOD service you have to buy newer STB (not sure what happens if you want personal recorder). My provider SIOL, as all big companies, is completely ignoring customers, too. While they are making huge profits they aren't capable of delivering services that would actually work as one expects.

BTW as a test of IP TV ease of use, try teaching your mother to use it.

What do you think?

Problem with LifeCam VX-6000 and its solution

Lately I bought [MS] LifeCam VX-6000 web cam for my computer running Vista Ultimate x86. First problem I've faced was that I had to wait for [MS] to release its Vista compatible drivers since I was running Vista even before it went to retail shelves. Ok, that's not a big deal, I am patient person I guess.

The bigger problem was that after installing proper drivers they were working just partially - I could use messenger video call but I couldn't use LifeCam's control panel to adjust the camera settings - I always got an exception upon connecting (without any good error message of course). Since I had no clue what was causing the problem I waited again until I've spotted a thread (using Google groups of course) where a guy stated that the culprit was.....Nero (I admit, I've installed Nero 6.something before, Vista warned me that it isn't much compatible and might cause problems (this message was so true, I just didn't know at the time), but I was able to burn media just fine).

So, I skeptically uninstalled Nero and LifeCam's control panel amazingly started to work. Go figure.

The remorse of HP

A week or so ago I fumed over HP's attitude of forcing me into buying new scanner and ditching perfectly working old one just to get new drivers. And, as in the Lost series often happens, a miracle happened. HP people are obviously reading my blog and the felt a bit of remorse after my post. After all that scanner is their baby. So, the wise men there decided to make an inhuman effort and started porting drivers to Vista. Don't believe me? The same old arrogant page now reads like:

 

Sounds more reasonable. If they deliver, of course.

Using not supported USB (2.0) devices on Vista

In the last post I spitted over HP for not supplying Vista drivers for one of their scanners I own. I won't repeat my disappointment again, rather I'll supply a solution. No, it is not buying a newer scanner from HP.

It is far easier - use [VMWare] Workstation 6.0 (currently in beta) that supports USB 2.0 devices. I tested and it works almost flawlessly. The only trick is that you have to attach USB device during Windows XP (yes, the guest is XP SP2) boot process - otherwise guest machine will freeze for some reason (it is in beta, so it is normal to have bugs). Also I am not sure whether USB 2.0 is supported in their free [VMWare] Player product.

It turns out that [VMWare] Workstation 6.0 is a very valuable solution for Vista upgrade situation, too (besides the obvious advantages) as you can use not supported USB 2.0 devices (and perhaps others) within a virtual machine hosted on Vista.

The arrogance of HP

In one of the latest posts I ranted about missing Vista drivers for some hardware I own. Among them is a HP DeskJet 3970 scanner. The topic of the post was "hey, why are those drivers late". But I certainly didn't anticipate the HP official statement. But let's get back a few minutes.

From time to time I check missing-Vista-driver-hardware companies web sites whether there is a Vista driver made available. So I went to HP's DeskJet 3970 drivers page and amongst drivers for older OS I saw both Vista and Vista x64 links. I almost couldn't believe - HP made Vista drivers before Vista's official launch. Wow. Of course I was being naive.

Here is the page that followed click on Vista drivers link:

(click on picture to see full size, here is a link to the page)

And pay special attention to this part:

...please consider upgrading to a newer HP product that is supported on Windows Vista.

How hard is to update a working Windows XP driver version to Vista? I certainly don't think it is that hard or even hard at all. HP is obviously trying to squeeze some more money from their customers. And they are doing it with a huge arrogant attitude.

So, HP left me without support for not-so-cheap scanner. And they are even suggesting me to buy one of their newer models? Do I look like an idiot. OK, I could look like one since I bought their scanner in the past. But do I look like a total idiot? Would I buy from a company that doesn't care about their customers? Would I buy a scanner "built" for Vista just to replace it with newer model when Vista SP1 comes out? And I am sure that this scanner is not the only HP device left behind.  I am also sorry to see HP, once a quality company, loosing the latest bits of credibility they have.

Dear HP, yes, I might buy a newer model, but certainly not from you.

Fiber optics battle has (finally) begun

In the last week two major ISPs in Slovenia asked for permission to lay down fiber optics cables in Nova Gorica, my town - they have to get majority in every building (if they don't get enough permissions then building won't be connected). Which means fiber optics at my home this year. Also, two companies means competition and that's good. That's very good. What's even better is that (where already available)  internet speed is higher and significantly cheaper over fiber optics. For similar price I am paying now I would get 10/10 instead of 2/384k.

So, should I give my permission? Hm, I have to think about. :-P

Putting sleepless Vista to sleep

Since I have my new computer & Vista x86 I had problems with putting it into sleep or hibernate state - as soon it went to sleep/hibernate state it would wake up immediately and return to happy working mode (like my children - putting them to sleep is always an adventure). The motherboard is Intel based Gigabyte GA-965P-DS4 and it really shouldn't have problems. Thanks to the comment of PetarR I soon isolated the problem to Wake-On-Lan feature. For the test I disconnected computer from network (by pulling out the network cable) and it didn't wake up anymore until I didn't make him to. Good, but not good enough since I didn't know how to disable it (WOL was disabled in BIOS already) and I really didn't have time to play with it as the issue wasn't critical and I had a lot of other, more important, work to do. Fortunately Alex Feinman (.net CF MVP) suggested device manager's advanced features and that was it. I right clicked on my network adapter leaf

and turned off the only option that was "suspicious": Wake Up Capabilities (from Magic Packet & Pattern Matching to None).

And computer finally gets some sleep...

Interestingly, this device wasn't allowed to wake the computer even before.

Note that I am not yet on official drivers since Gigabyte didn't relase them yet.

Is it now OK to do piracy in Slovenia?

On 20th of October 2006 the Slovene government imposed an act of self reproduction compensation reproduction for personal use. Actually I don't know the proper English term so I'll describe what it is about.

The government wants us to pay some sort of compensation (tax) for every amount of storage we buy to compensate the damage to the authors done by piracy. This tax is applicable for all sorts of media: CD, DVD, tapes(what's that?) and other. There is more, even devices are included: hard drives, CD/DVD drives, tape recorders, video recorders, photocopy machines, mobile phones(!!!) etc. The tax is valued as €0.033 (or $0.04) per gigabyte of storage (and by some other mean for devices that don't have storage).

I am sure that's beautiful for the authors (or for the greedy government?). However, what does it mean for an user

  1. that uses licensed software only: Great, I am just buying a new computer with 4x320Gb hard drives and a DVD drive. That roughly means 4*€320*0.033 + €0.8 =~ €43. I am using licensed software only and paying for a piracy compensation. Does this mean I can use pirated software now? I paid for its compensation afterall.
  2. that uses non-licensed software: User pays for piracy now - is the piracy legitimate now?

Every (stupid - isn't it a requirement for politicians?) politician here has full mouth of e-[everything]. According to them we are going to be the most advanced/developed e-country by 2023 or something, yet they can't care less in reality. I strongly doubt that they even understand what e- means - it sounds nice and attracts crowds though.

So, while they have full e-mouths they keep adding taxes to devices and storage media. Aren't they supposed to lower the tax pressure and as consequence the prices instead of adding taxes to legitimate users?

What is the next step? We could get a stupid politician damage compensation: we would pay a tax when we vote to compensate the citizens for the damage done by elected politicians.

Anyway, since I am an author of my applications I'll apply for compensation...